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Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Every year on the anniversary of the prophet Mohammed’s birth, (‘Eid al-Mawlid) many Moroccans take part in pilgrimages to sacred places, saintly tombs, shrines and grottos, and places frequented by ‘junuun,’ those mystical beings from the Qur’an who hold a special place in Moroccan folklore and popular culture.
Thousands of pilgrims descend upon Sidi Ali to commemorate Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and to delve into the world of the supernatural, the trance, the aura of the junuun, to experience the ritual bath at the spring of Aïsha Ben Hamdoucha and incantations that bring spirits and humans together in remembrance of God.
During the week of the pilgrimage, tents and stalls line the streets of the small town. The smells of tea and grilled meat mix with those of live sheep awaiting slaughter and the sweet incense used in ritual offerings. Music fills the foggy mountain air as impromptu street performances take place in every corner.
Musicians playing anything from the Ahidous native to the Atlas Mountains to Sufi music in the Hamadsha or Gnawa traditions descend upon Sidi Ali, set up camp in a ground floor garage or room in an apartment for the week to perform ceremonial ‘Lillas’.
Spectators are slowly brought into the ritual – dancing, swaying and being offered breaths of incense until some fall into a trance. Participation with the mystic during the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali ben Hamdouch is very much like all mystic experiences: it requires initiation, belief and surrender.
The sweet smell of incense and the rhythmic clapping of metal castanets and chanting of the Gnawi form an experience that flows between the spiritual and the sensory – between mere curiosity and more esoteric meanderings. Hardly advertised, the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch is still known by most Moroccans. This is an opportunity to be transported deep into Moroccan tradition.